The big news out of the USGA annual meeting about moving away from money lists to the world golf rankings for the U.S. Open spots overshadowed some important news impacting the amateur game.
The USGA announced a full partnership with the R&A to manage and promote the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR). Part and parcel of this new arrangement is to exempt the top 50 golfers in the world into the U.S. Amateur, and to do something similar with the Women’s WAGR in 2012.
This was a well choreographed two-step that began unfolding days before the annual meeting when the R&A announced a long-awaited Women’s WAGR. This enabled the USGA to embrace both rankings so as not to upset the distaff side of the game. The R&A and USGA will jointly exercise oversight of both rankings, which will remain based in St. Andrews. It is a welcome decision on both sides of the Atlantic, for many reasons.
First off, it will enable the elite amateurs from Great Britain and the European continent to compete in the U.S. Amateur. Unless those players were competing on the American summer amateur circuit, playing in the U.S. national championship was unlikely due to the qualification process. Amateur qualifying is a one-day, 36-hole ordeal, and few internationals were ever likely to make the trip over for just a daylong crapshoot. Now that the elite are exempt, they are likely to compete, resulting in a stronger U.S Amateur field.
The American elite benefit as well. They no longer have to search for a convenient date and venue to squeeze a full day qualifier into an already compressed summer schedule. Also, the strength of field increases, as the top American lads do not have to worry about a single bad day resulting in missing out on their national championship.
Not everyone agrees that this was a wise decision. A small number of American summer tournament directors believe, some adamantly so, that the wrong ranking system was selected for this process. They believe that the Scratch Players Ranking is superior to the WAGR, and they cite the curious case of David McDaniel as prime evidence.
McDaniel, a mid-amateur from Tucson, Ariz., is currently ranked No. 5 in the WAGR. McDaniel has a sprinkling of USGA appearances, he won the 2009 Arizona Amateur and the 2010 Arizona Publinx, and he is a regular contender in state and local competitive events. He also advanced to the finals of the U.S. Publinx in 2010, which explains to some degree his lofty world ranking.
By all accounts, McDaniel is a good guy and a fine player. What he is not is the No. 5 player in the world. His playing record pales in comparison to all above him, and to many below him. It is variances like this that cause some people to shake their heads in disbelief when it comes to the WAGR.
McDaniel began the year ranked near 1,800 and he began a slow and steady climb upward. The Publinx finish shot him up to close to 400, and then two forces combined to catapult him to No. 5. First, the formula was changed on November 1, a complicated tweak that favored him and others who don’t play heavy U.S. collegiate schedules. Secondly, he accrued points from the PGA Tour Q School process; McDaniel won his pre-qualifier, finished third in his first stage event, and then fell short in the second stage. He did not turn pro and remains an amateur.
It is one thing to earn points in a pro event or major championship; no matter how you gained entry, you earned it, and the points should count. But to include points earned in an event whose only purpose is to qualify you to turn professional doesn’t make sense for an amateur ranking system.
The USGA is clearly aware of this particular situation. Were McDaniel truly worthy of his ranking, he would have been included in the recent Walker Cup practice session held in Florida last month. However, he was not invited, while several players ranked below him were.
Rankings of any kind have a bit of subjectivity and bias in them, and therefore will never please everybody. The Scratch Players Rankings has its own McDaniel issue, involving former WAGR No.1 Jin Jeong. Jeong hasn’t done a thing since winning the British Amateur last summer, missing cut after cut, mostly in professional events. Yet the Scratch Players rankings have him ranked No. 6, vs. 158 in the WAGR. Critics of the Scratch Players rankings contend that they do not recognize poor performance, best illustrated by Jeong.
WAGR Manager Andy McDonald acknowledges the McDaniel anomaly, and refreshingly says that the rankings are always evolving, and the WAGR committee welcomes input from the world of amateur golf. He doesn’t ever expect to satisfy everyone, but he says the R&A and USGA are determined to make the rankings the best they can be.
That attitude is encouraging. It is important for the amateur game that the WAGR receive worldwide acceptance and respect, to truly become ‘the global standard in amateur golf.’ To do so, the mathematicians who tend to the formula need to continue to improve the algorithm to insure that players like McDaniel don’t appear where they clearly do not belong. Otherwise, the rankings will face continued ridicule from informed observers of the amateur game who believe that they are seriously flawed.